Saturday, January 27, 2018

Waiting and letting go

"Because of the enormous wind and rain we have had, a lot of the daffodils have blown down, though not as many as I had feared. But the truth is that their peak is past. We shall have them for another week and then they will be gone. It seems quite unbearable but that is what spring is--the letting go. The waiting and waiting and waiting, and then the letting go."
--May Sarton, Encore: A Journal of the Eightieth Year

This passage leaped out at me because it is also how I experience spring: the waiting and waiting for those first spears of crocus leaf, the white blossoms of snowdrop, the electric blue of glory-of-the-snow. The first subtle stars of witch hazel in an otherwise bleak landscape. At the beginning, it's easy to keep an inventory of everything as it blooms, because the flowers are so few and so long anticipated. And then the waves start--daffodils, hyacinths, forsythia, lesser celandine, the earliest cherries, redbuds, weeping cherries, dogwoods, bluebells and wood poppies, violets, azaleas, lilacs, the late cherries--all of them brilliant for such a short time, often peaking within a week. I welcome each wave and let it go, reluctantly. And then the trees leaf out and the longer-lived, less showy flowers such as dandelions and clover bloom, and we settle into summer. 

In the coming weeks, in my part of the country, the spring watch will start. There is always some adventurous early flower that comes out during a winter thaw and gets frozen in the bud (usually forsythia and cherries, but once I saw daffodils blooming on New Year's Eve). Otherwise we will wait and wait and wait for the waves of spring, and then we will let each one go in turn.

My writer friends may also recognize a pattern in that: waiting and waiting and waiting--for ideas, for feedback, for publication, for responses. Letting go--of expectations, of ideas that didn't work, of manuscripts that didn't find readers, of successful stories that nonetheless cannot be dwelt in forever. Turning to the next wave, for its unique beauty, for however long it may last.

Sunday, January 21, 2018


I don't have a digital assistant.

Actually, I find robotic voices a little creepy. It's especially startling to answer your phone and find someone who sounds like a person asking how you are and laughing about their kids, and you realize it's just a scripted bot, not a person, on the other end.

The simulation of the human voice is what creeps me out, I think. Similarly, I can't stand the kind of animation that you now see in video games and lots of movies, with people who look close to real but just have that tiny bit of "offness" that completely repels me.

Anyway, this is my own quirk, and to each their own. But I think about this every time I hear a commercial in which an actress is impersonating a digital assistant. Why have the advertisers decided that the digital assistant is the perfect pitchwoman? Are we that dependent on our own flawed creations? 

Maybe this is a silly question to ask about advertising--which after all, has used cartoon bears, dancing raisins, and a man sailing a tiny boat in your toilet tank as "trusted authorities" for the sake of selling us stuff. In light of that, why not use the digital assistant?

There's just something wild to me about an actress impersonating a digital assistant, given that the digital assistant impersonates human assistants. More and more, we are living in a world of such circularity, of illusion. There could be a story here. Right now what I have is just a sense of unease, but unease leads to plenty of stories. Unease is the scratch of a match against the striking pad.

Monday, January 15, 2018


I've been reading (transcribed) oral histories, memoirs, personal essays, and letters. On deck I have a biography and a novel. I'm loving all these different formats and voices and time periods (which range from the 1800s to the present). Sitting down with a book or a magazine is still my favorite way to spend an afternoon hour, as well as being my favorite way to begin and end the day.

It's a good counterpoint to all the news I'm reading and watching--and sometimes it enhances my understanding. Because over and over again, the issues we battle out in the news are issues that people have dealt with in previous eras. So many times, I find lines or quotes from 200 years ago that could be written today, could apply to present situations.

I'm not sure whether it's comforting or exasperating that we argue the same points over and over. Maybe both.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Sources of conflict

"For generation upon generation we humans have continued to try to heal our pain by inflicting more pain on others. And so it continues ..."
--Anne Speiser, in The Mindfulness Bell, Winter/Spring 2007

I zeroed in on this quote because it captures the way I approach characters, particularly "villains." I put "villains" in quotes because I think most people are not villains in their own minds, even if they're viewed that way by others. And all of us have the capability to do villainous things, at least sometimes. Most of us think we are more good than bad, that we are trying our best in a difficult world.

I try not to have my characters' bad acts reduced to a simple this-trauma-caused-that-transgression formula; it's too simplistic. I leave it to the reader to decide whether a rationale is an excuse, whether an act is forgivable. I don't usually have good characters vs. evil characters, but rather the positive and negative within each person churning and roiling, testing each character. To me, these are the most interesting conflicts, the most interesting sources of growth. 

To go back to the quote, of course we shouldn't pass along our pain. But we often do. So my stories ask, what then? What next, and can we ever break this cycle?